Mount Greylock school building project opposed by 49 percent of Lanesborough survey respondents


LANESBOROUGH — A four-question survey written and conducted by town officials seems to indicate substantial opposition to the new $64.8 million high school project proposed by the Mount Greylock Regional School Committee.

The first question in the survey was multiple choice, asking respondents to express support or non-support of the project, and 435 of them, or 49 percent, did not support the project.

About 42 percent said they support the project, or about 377 respondents. Nine percent had no opinion.

The results were announced during Monday's select board meeting. Town administrator Paul Sieloff said 1,900 surveys were mailed to all registered voters. Of those, 894 responded.

He noted that the questions were written by select board members and town staff with a conscious effort made to pose unbiased questions that sought honest responses.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority has authorized up to $33.234 million towards the overall cost of the project. Current estimates show the local share of the cost is between $31.5 million and $35.3 million. The debt would be incurred by issuing bonds.

In Lanesborough, taxpayers' share of the local cost would be 32.3 percent, or about $10.6 million, causing a tax rate increase of between $1.61 and $1.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value, or an average annual increase of the tax bill by $304 to $392.

In Williamstown, taxpayers would pick up 67.7 percent of the local share of the cost, or about $22.3 million, with a property tax rate increase of between $1.42 and $1.60 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would increase the average annual tax bill by $393 to $569.

The average daily cost of the tax increase would come to about $1 in Lanesborough and $1.31 in Williamstown per property owner.

The survey, dated Jan. 20, showed that of those responding, 50 percent or 450 respondents, felt the town should explore regionalizing with another school. Those who disagreed came to about 43 percent, or 380 respondents. Seven percent had no opinion.

The third question asked voters to rank how important Lanesborough's affiliation is with the Mount Greylock School District. With 35 percent, or 315 people, saying the relationship is very important, 38 percent felt it is not important, or 337 respondents.

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In order for Lanesborough to change school districts, the school committees of both the elementary school and the high school would have to vote in favor of such a proposal, according to school officials.

And if Lanesborough was to somehow associate itself with Hoosac Valley High School, for example, then tax payers would still have to pay the debt service tax rate that goes to pay down the cost of the newly renovated Hoosac Valley High School.

The last question asked voters how important it is to try to collect financial support from tax exempt properties — presumably the property owned by non-profit, tax-exempt entities like Williams College — to offset the cost of the Mount Greylock school building project.

Seeing the concept as very important were 456 respondents, or 51 percent. Another 21 percent felt it was not important, or 190 people.

School officials have previously explained that collecting taxes from tax-exempt entities goes against the tax code.

After hearing the survey, the select board was asked to express support or opposition to the project. Board chairman John Goerlach and board member Henry Sayers said they oppose it. Board member Bob Emerson expressed support for the project as proposed.

"We've been trying to gauge the temperament of the town as to whether people support it," Gerlach said. "For the people who oppose it, this is a good feeling. But this is not March 15, so this is not final."

Both towns would need to vote to exclude the bond debt from the Proposition 2 1/2 tax increase limit. Williamstown will cast ballots on debt exclusion March 1, during the state presidential primary. Lanesborough voters will be able to cast ballots on March 15.

If either town fails to pass the debt exclusion, the project fails and the effort to replace the 1960 high school structure would have to begin anew.

The school suffers from periodic issues in major building systems including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, building envelope and windows.

In 2009, the locker room ceiling collapsed and the antiquated boilers had to be replaced.

In 2013, school was closed for two days because the HVAC system was overwhelmed by heat and high humidity, which settled on the floors making for a slick, hazardous situation.


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